Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Scientific innovation is key to powering the future

BLUEFUELENERGY.COM: With the planet facing the double threat of global climate change brought on by greenhouse gas emissions and the depletion of the world's petroleum reserves, humankind has some choices to make. We can carry on as present and face both an energy crisis and a climatic crisis in the near future, we can drastically slow our consumption of energy thereby staving off these twin calamities but hobbling what we call modern civilization, or we can innovate to develop technologies that will both solve the threats we face and advance civilization.

Most people would agree that the choice to innovate and advance civilization is the most desirable, and it is always fascinating to see how innovation manifests itself. While the general population might consider the development of Blue Fuel/DME as an alternative fuel innovative in its own right, two recent announcements regarding innovations in the production of alternative fuels go a step further.

The first idea comes from the Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology (IBN) in Singapore where scientists have demonstrated a method of converting CO2 into methanol via a non-toxic room-temperature process. In a media release they explain that "IBN scientists have made carbon dioxide react by using N-heterocyclic carbenes (NHCs), a novel organocatalyst. ...Hydrosaline, a combination of silica and hydrogen, is added to the NHC-activated carbon dioxide, and the product of this reaction is transformed into methanol by adding water through hydrolysis." Research is continuing to make the process even more cost-effective.

The second idea comes from scientists at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology. Their article, "Concentrating-Solar Biomass Gasification Process for a 3rd Generation Biofuel," was published in the online journal Environmental Science and Technology. The abstract states: "A new concept of producing synfuel from biomass using concentrated solar energy as its main energy source is proposed in this paper. The aim of the concept is to obtain an easy-to-handle fuel with near-zero CO2 emissions and reduced land-use requirements compared to first- and second-generation biofuels. The concept's key feature is the use of high-temperature heat from a solar concentrating tower to drive the chemical process of converting biomass to a biofuel, obtaining a near-complete utilization of carbon atoms in the biomass." An excellent synopsis of the paper can be found on the Green Car Congress website.

These are only two ideas, but they are representative of the widespread effort being put forth to develop innovative technologies to tackle some of the challenges facing the world today.

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